By David Meyer
February 20, 2019

Good morning. David Meyer here, filling in for Alan from Berlin.

We have a couple of must-read Fortune articles for you this morning from Vivienne Walt, who travelled around India to learn more about what Google is doing there—and more generally, how the Indian populace is becoming digitally savvy.

The Google piece is truly fascinating, showing how much effort Google is investing in a country that won’t give it many big returns for a long while yet.

Some highlights:

  • As India’s government made a big push for the transition from cash to digital payments, Google set up its first digital payments app in the country. That app, now called Google Pay, is now active in 29 countries.
  • Google Maps these days references landmarks when giving directions. Again, that feature was born in India, where “thousands of Indian roads have no official street names, and if they do have names, locals do not know them.”
  • The company is working with Tata’s philanthropic arm to train women to train other women to get online. Most Internet users in India are, for now, men.

There is of course another side to this, as Walt writes in reference to a rail-station Wi-Fi hotspot scheme: “When users log into a Google Station hotspot, a portal sucks up their data and allows Google to post ads on a dedicated web page.” That brings back memories of Facebook’s Free Basics debacle in India, in which efforts to connect more people ended up being characterized as a sort of data-extracting “Internet colonialism.”

Walt’s companion piece, an interview with Indian tech policy czar Amitabh Kant, also touches on that issue.

Here’s what Kant said about India’s digital government initiatives, such as the Aadhaar biometric database: “Unlike in the U.S., where all the data is owned by Google and Facebook, and unlike China, where it is owned by Alibaba and Tencent and Baidu, in India it’s owned by public entities.” (It should be noted that the security of Aadhaar is highly questionable.) He also said “the data of Indians must be kept within India.”

Nonetheless, Kant was full of praise for Google, which he saw as being ahead of Amazon in reaching the wider Indian populace. In a tech world that used to recite the “move fast and break things” mantra, it seems there’s a lot to be gained by taking the long view.

News below.

David Meyer


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